It’s easy to understand the links between a warming global atmosphere and summertime heat waves. But the connections to winter weather are less simple.
There’s no doubt that, overall, our winters are warming. NPR has this overview of how balmier winter temperatures are affecting each U.S. region.
Is global warming bringing us more snow or less snow? Yes, both, it depends.
- This piece from Climate Central is characteristically succinct and thorough. It’s aimed at reporters but useful to the rest of us and is organized by U.S. region: “Shifting snow in the warming U.S.”
- If you’re a subscriber, you’ll find this short New York Times piece by Anne Barnard to be to the point: “How climate change can supercharge snowstorms”
- Focused on the big storm of December 2022, Henry Fountain’s New York Times story does a good job of covering several key elements in this larger question: “A ‘once in a generation’ storm. What’s the role of climate change?”
- Another (largely) wintertime phenomenon, the atmospheric rivers that can barrage the West Coast, can also be affected, with more water vapor in the air adding to heavier rains and snows. This story explains: “How climate change is shaping California’s winter storms” (Raymond Zhong, New York Times)
What about those cold spells that reach far into the U.S. South? Are they somehow caused by extra CO2 in the atmosphere? This question is a matter of intense, ongoing scientific debate.
- Here is one good explanation: “What is the polar vortex? And other cold-weather climate questions” (Henry Fountain, New York Times)
- Here is another, also focused on the scientific debate but still accessible to lay readers: “Arctic climate change may not be making winter jet stream weird after all” (Bob Henson, Washington Post). And don’t miss this Yale Climate Connections interview with Henson on the same topic.
- For a slower, more detailed, and more technical look at the debate, read this Carbon Brief explainer: “How is Arctic warming linked to the ‘polar vortex’ and other extreme weather?” (Robert McSweeney)
- Note that the press often distorts this scientific debate, emphasizing one “side” while downplaying the other. For instance, while the headline of this Washington Post article by Scott Dance says that “Scientists say Arctic warming could be to blame for blasts of extreme cold,” the subhead (and article itself) notes that “the scientific jury is still out.”